Insignia of the Order of St. James
Portugal, late 17th century
Silver, parcel gilt, gold, diamonds, mother-of-pearl and enamel
75 x 36 mm.
The old insignia
The St. James cross is an espada. An espada is a symbol between a cross and a sword, and was originally used in the religious military orders. Its function, during the crusades, was that of promoting the christian ideal of leading an evangelical life and fighting the infidel with arms.
During the 16th century, new rules reflecting the current religious intolerance forbid the admission into the military orders of people with "infected blood" or non-noble origins. In this way, entrance into one of the orders became, in some cases, a way to clean one's obscure origins and gain social acceptance. Under the reforms of the liberal governments (1832-34), the Military Order of St. James, together with all over the orders, was abolished for a period of time, after which it reappeared, reformed.
The order in present days exists and paradoxically, its symbol, the St. James Insignia, is now used to reward portugese and foreigner merits in the grounds of literature, arts and sciences.